Figures of time : on the phenomenology of cinema and temporality

University dissertation from Stockholm : Norstedt

Abstract: Image and time represent a favored issue among theorists and practitioners in the history of cinema, where discussion is related to the ingenious machine, the new art, as well as the experience of film. Looking back on this debate, and considering recent accounts of 'time-images,' it is striking to note how the problem has always oscillated between issues of the medium specific and issues of film experience; that is, the ontology of cinema as a time-bound medium, the quality of rhythm, duration, and recorded views, and, not least, the sensory and affective impact of mediated sound-images. The phenomenological tradition in film theory demands recognition in this respect because it contributed, in various ways, to the acknowledgment of film as something other than a static image object or a filmed story. Phenomenology brought attention to the perceptual modalities of the moving image as well as to the pleasures of film viewing. At the point of intersection between the phenomenology of time-images and the phenomenology of time consciousness, cinema already justifies a philosophical perspective. This study suggests a reassessment of cinema and temporality from the perspective of phenomenology. It aims at a conceptualization of this problem and historically maps this issue in theoretical work as well as in the practice of filmmaking. A major argument is that the problem of cinema and temporality in classical film theory deserves critical attention as well as modification in light of contemporary film, video, and multimedia. For example, what are the significations of 'temporalization' in moving images today, what are the possibilities and fallacies of a phenomenological perspective, and how do classical notions of the temporal image and 'film art' correspond to the play with time and space in documentary and experimental cinema? In line with these questions, Figures of Time advances a methodological discussion, where an alternative phenomenological approach is outlined with reference to the context of semiotic phenomenology and, more specifically, a discussion of texts by Paul Ricoeur, Dominique Janicaud, and Erving Goffman. Three themes demarcate the overall structure of this study: the sensory, time measurement, and the trace. Throughout Western philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle to Déscartes, Kant, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty, 'the sensory' stands out as a crucial theme in aesthetic theory. Its imprecise signification between the quality of a given object and the quality of our perception resonates in classical discussions of the temporal status of photography and film. Aside from this contextualization of the sensory in classical film theory, the theme is also present in contemporary approaches to the tactile and experiential nature of moving images, such as in The Address of the Eye by Vivian Sobchack. 'Time Measurement' matches predominant notions of film as a Zeitobjekt, visualized music and staged rhythm, as well as the production of interval and tempo that were crucial to the avant-garde cinema of the 1920s and 1960s, and which still reverberate in sound-image elaborations of framing, duration, and speed. In this study, and with reference to Dominique Janicaud, 'time measurement' becomes a conceptual theme that stresses temporalization as a figural process realized between the time of the image and the time of film viewing. Accordingly, 'time measurement' is already incorporated in 'the sensory' and vice versa, because the performed meter of a film cannot be isolated from the viewer's sensory judgment of a temporal dimension.'The trace' offers a recurrent theme in French phenomenology in general, and in André Bazin's film criticism in particular. Jean-Paul Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Roland Barthes, and Paul Ricoeur, all address the semiotic hybridity of this notion between materiality and experience. In the theory of photography it has been regarded as the prerequisite of the photographic image and its uncanny presence of the past. However, as Bernard Stiegler reminds us, the trace-status of photography is not opposed to the suggested Prässenzzeit of moving images. Rather, within our culture of recording and preservation, cinema stands out as a technology of memory, which opens up this account of cinema and temporality to broader issues of media, archive, and the production of historical time. By drawing attention to the ephemeral and concrete work in cinema of mediated rhythm, stasis, and photographic traces of historical time, these themes bring attention to the plastic and expressive nature of temporalization on the screen, as well as the existential dimensions of Time that have always puzzled man.

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